I recently spent two days at the Natural and Organic Products Europe Show in Olympia: an annual showcase of the best in natural, organic, ethical and ‘free from’ – including food, drink, skincare, supplements, household goods, clothing and much more besides. (My new skincare discoveries will be covered in the next edition of the SkinsMatter.com newsletter – subscribe for free here.)
Among the exhibitors were a number of entrants to the FreeFrom Skincare Awards, and although for reasons of time and busy-ness I was sad not to be able to talk to all of them, it was terrific to speak to those I did manage to see, such as Cecilia from Mary Elizabeth, Paul from HerbFarmacy, Pippa from Blend Collective, our defending champion Peter from Planet Health, Sue from Green People, and several more besides.
One of the recurring themes among the conversations I had about our Awards concerned the judging, a summary of the process for which you can read about on the Awards website, specifically the arrangements for the month-long testing of shortlisted products by Beauty Bible testers, which, topically, is taking place right now.
With around 75 shortlisted products, and ten samples of each submitted, we have recruited a nationwide body of 85 experienced testers to test between 6 and 10 products each.
“Did you just send them off fairly randomly?” enquired one exhibitor who’d not heard of the Awards before.
I smiled. How we allocated the products to testers was anything but random, and involved a lot of planning! …
The first stage was to mail a very specific questionnaire, tailored according to our shortlisted product types, to all potential testers who volunteered this year. Among the questions we asked – and indeed had to ask – were:
a/ Are you willing and able to test a cellulite product?
b/ Do you suffer from eczema – and if so, on a scale of 1-5, how severely?
c/ Are you pregnant / breastfeeding?
d/ Are you allergic to gluten / dairy / nuts?
e/ Do you wet shave?
In all, I think there were around 30-40 questions of this nature, designed to ascertain whether individuals were ideally placed and in a position to be able to test particular products, whether it was right and fair of us to ask them to do so, and also to help us to avoid sending out products to people who could not give them a fair or appropriate trial.
Their responses were fed into an elaborate, split-screen spreadsheet, and then began the head-spinning task of allocating products appropriate to certain individuals through a complicated mechanism of filters and conditional counting systems to keep track of those match-ups.
We had to aim to avoid giving testers more than two of any kind of product – there are only so many facial oils one tester can put through their paces in a one-month period! Allergies had to be respected and ingredients re-scrutinised. We had a few vegans who could not receive a beeswax-containing product. People with no cellulite could not be sent a cellulite oil. Products with ‘not suitable for pregnant women’ warnings could only go to men and unexpectant women. And so on.
One of the techniques I used was to ‘greenlight’ certain testers. ‘Greenlit’ women were those with no problem skin issues, with no allergies or sensitivities, no health issues or concerns, who were game and willing and able to test everything and anything. I identified about 15 or 20 and kept those ‘aside’, to some extent, safe in the knowledge that once I’d allocated some of the more challenging products and given a full ‘house’ of products to some of the testers with highly specific requirements or preferences, these women could safely take products remaining.
But that was only part of the story. The problem skin category (category 10) had its own difficulties. Obviously, products entered into this category were suited to dry, sensitive, eczematous or mildly psoriasitic skin, but nevertheless we felt it important to try to allocate in such a way that the products went to three or four testers who each had very mild, less mild, and more severe problem skin respectively, so that the ‘average’ severity of the problem skin of testers any one product was sent to was roughly equal across the ten testers when taken as a whole. This proved to be a very delicate juggling exercise – but we got there.
Inevitably, some eventualities presented themselves that we hadn’t banked on, but which sat well with us regardless. A few men ended up with a (non-floral) face oil each, for instance: and I was reminded of the pleausre of one of our male testers last year at having tried and tested a facial serum which we sent him – I think it was the wonderful Sophyto Skin Concentrate which was shortlisted in FaceCare in 2012 – because he’d never thought they were suited to men and found it worked wonders on his complexion. We’re looking forward to the male responses this year too!
The whole process of writing, sending out and processing questionnaires, and then allocating products, probably took the best part of a week – and that’s before we even got stuck into parcelling them up and mailing them! But if this sounds like moaning – it isn’t meant to. We’re happy to have taken this time with the products submitted. We know from feedback from entrants that not all awards go to this effort to put products through their paces, and the fact that we do seems to be appreciated.
That potential winners of the Awards – which we believe all our 70-odd shortlisted products are – are thoroughly tested by ten consumers with a passion for natural skincare or concerned about their skin health, is what is most important to us, so that we can be reassured, when their feedback is in, that the awards are eventually given to products and manufacturers who truly deserve recognition.
We just hope our tester/product match-ups were suitable for all our Beauty Bible volunteers – and, judging by the emails from testers receiving their parcels this week … so far, so good …